Growing up surfing in California, I feel like I heard this phrase over and over and over again: “don’t go surfing in the rain.”
The warning “don’t go surfing for at least three days after it rains” also rings pretty loudly in my memory. As a teenager, I didn’t listen to this warning. The warning wasn’t accompanied by a “why”, so I didn’t fully understand the sentiment. Plus, if the surf was epic, what was a little rain to stop me from paddling out? Heck, it was less crowded in the rain… Even more reason to go out!
As an adult, with several more years of life and surfing experience under my belt, I understand the risks of surfing in the rain a little better, and I’m writing this post to explain them to someone else asking the same questions. So, here’s the lowdown on surfing in the rain:
Risks of surfing in the rain
Here are some of the more common risks of surfing in the rain:
Getting struck by lightning
One of the most dangerous places to be during a lightning storm is surrounded by water. I used to be somewhat cavalier about surfing in the rain, and during storms.
Then, in 2021 I was surfing in Costa Rica during the start of the rainy season. And boy, the waves were SO GOOD. And then I came home, checked social media and the news, and saw that pro surfer Katherine Días Hernández was out surfing in El Salvador, and was struck by lightning in the surf and killed. She was 22. Completely heartbreaking.
It might seem tempting to paddle out in a storm, but if there is lightning out, seriously, do not risk it. It’s not worth it.
Sanitation issues and GI problems from runoff
Another huge risk of surfing in the rain is getting sick from urban runoff. When it rains in an urban, coastal area, EVERYTHING washes into the ocean. Pollution, sewage, everything. It’s disgusting. If you surf right after a rain, especially after the first rain in a while, you’re basically ingesting all of that.
I pretty much ignored this risk of surfing in the rain as a teenager, and for the most part was okay. I think the water up in SLO county is a lot cleaner than say, LA county or other Socal surf areas. However, a few years ago, I went surfing in Santa Barbara a few days after the Montecito mudslides. It was NOT WORTH IT. I was rocking double throat/eye infections after that sewage surf sesh, it was so, so not worth it. Don’t be like me… don’t surf after rains in an urban area… and DEFINITELY don’t surf after catastrophic mudslides.
These issues don’t just happen in super urban surf towns in California either. I currently live and surf in Nosara, Costa Rica, and the local community has been having major sanitation issues thanks to shoddy sewage systems, pollution, and runoff. It’s really sad, and a testament to how overdevelopment completely destroys small coastal communities.
The sicknesses you can get from surfing right after it rains
There’s some real nasty stuff you can get from surfing right after it rains. Including E. coli, skin rashes, dysentery, staph infections, ear infections, eye infections and a whole lot more. Like I said- some pretty yucky stuff!
Wait three days to surf after a rain
After a rain, there can be several contaminants that can enter the ocean, including pollutants and bacteria. Some of these contaminants can be harmful to human health and can cause skin rashes, ear infections, respiratory problems, and gastrointestinal illnesses.
It is recommended to wait at least 3 days after a heavy rain before surfing to minimize the risk of exposure to these contaminants. During this time, the ocean currents and waves can help to disperse and dilute the pollutants and bacteria, making the water safer for recreational activities.
It’s also a good idea to check local advisories or beach closures issued by health departments or other authorities after a heavy rain to determine if it is safe to surf.
In some towns and counties, the local health authorities might run tests on the water to see what types of contaminants and bacteria are in the water. If your town does this, it’s a good resource for you to check how clean (or not clean) the water is before paddling out.
Surfing in the rain- final thoughts
That’s a wrap on this post on surfing in the rain! Take from it what you wish, but if you still plan to surf in the rain, or surf right after it rains- go at your own risk.
I surf in the rain on occasion, but never during a lightning storm. I also definitely try to avoid the water for a bit right after the very first heavy rain of the season. If you are going to go out… well, try your best not to swallow too much water out there. And maybe drink a kombucha or take some probiotics after. Good luck, and happy surfing!